Florida Rep. Randy Fine threatened to interfere with state funding for the Special Olympics and the city of West Melbourne last week over a personal feud with Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, according to a series of text messages obtained by FLORIDA TODAY.
A city leader said Fine later tried to block the release of the text messages through a public records request and wanted a city attorney who was overseeing the request to be fired.
Fine denied he threatened to get the funding pulled or that he ever spoke about firing the city attorney.
Restraining order denied:Brevard judge dismisses Jennifer Jenkins’ ‘cyberstalking’ case against Rep. Randy Fine
In the text messages between Fine and West Melbourne City Councilman John Dittmore, obtained late Friday through a public records request, Fine told Dittmore that funding requests for the charity and the city in a state budget recently submitted for approval to Gov. Ron DeSantis would be on the governor’s chopping block.
The reason: city police officials had invited Jenkins to participate in a Special Olympics fundraising event by the West Melbourne Police Department, but had neglected to invite Fine.
“Jenkins just put your project and special Olympics funding on the veto list,” Fine wrote.
As Dittmore tried to intervene, the text messages show, Fine again said the Special Olympics funding was “at risk,” calling the move to invite Jenkins a “huge (expletive) by the bureaucrats.”
“Smart move is to cancel with apology for wading into politics,” he wrote.
Fine rejected Dittmore’s subsequent invitation to attend the event, which took place Friday at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant on Palm Bay Road, calling Jenkins a “whore.”
“I’m not going to jack (expletive) where that whore is at,” he wrote. “You guys will have to raise a lot of money given that’s who you want to honor, not the person who got you money in the budget.”
The $112.1 billion state budget, passed by the Florida Legislature and sent to the governor’s desk last month, included $1 million in various appropriations for the Special Olympics and a $460,000 flood risk reduction project affecting about 500 homes in West Melbourne’s Westbrooke neighborhood.
Dittmore told FLORIDA TODAY that, in a follow-up phone conversation with Fine, the State House representative objected when he found out the texts would be released by West Melbourne city attorney Morris Richardson as part of a public records request filed by Jenkins, and suggested Richardson should be fired.
“He was very displeased and frustrated with the fact that our city attorney made the decision that some of this stuff was going to be public,” Dittmore said. “He made references to the fact that we should consider terminating his employment.”
Read the entire exchange between Fine and Dittmore below. CONTENT WARNING: The following contains strong language. If you can’t read the texts, click here.
Fine denied Saturday that conversation ever took place and said he never threatened to ask DeSantis to veto the items. He said the “veto list” comment was a remark about the “negative attention” brought to the event by Jenkins, who attempted to “politicize” it when she posted about the event on social media.
“When you have someone like Jennifer Jenkins come and politicize charity events, it creates problems,” Fine told FLORIDA TODAY. “If you want to be in a charity event, fine. But when you go on Facebook and you politicize it, you put it at risk.”
Fine did not answer further questions pressing him on the nature of the “risk” he referenced.
A review of Jenkins’s Facebook account in the lead-up to the event shows several posts in which Jenkins touted the fundraiser with pictures of her in a mock jail uniform, holding a placard reading “#BailJenkins,” a riff on Fine’s “#JailJenkins” slogan he has often used in his own Facebook posts.
The fundraiser event was billed as participants “bailing out” various community leaders, who were “jailed” on the roof of Chick-Fil-A, according to ads posted by the West Melbourne Police Department.
While Fine said he did have the ability to ask DeSantis to veto line items in the state budget, he denied asking DeSantis to do so.
“If I (had the intention to do that), I would have. I haven’t. Never planned to. Didn’t do it,” he said.
Messages seeking comment to DeSantis’s press office were not immediately returned Saturday. FLORIDA TODAY has reached out to Special Olympics Florida.
Richardson said the city never intended to be caught in the crossfire of the fight between Jenkins and Fine. The invitation to attend the fundraiser was sent to the entire school board and to Brevard Superintendent Mark Mullins, he said. Only Jenkins responded that she would attend.
“In organizing this fundraiser for the Special Olympics, the City of West Melbourne certainly did not intend to become involved in an unrelated political dispute,” Richardson said in an email. “I trust that better angels will prevail, and that our leaders will not allow this to impact worthy projects and causes.”
Dittmore said a since-deleted Facebook post he made late last week attempting to apologize to Fine for Jenkins’ involvement in the event was an attempt to “smooth over” the situation before it “got out of hand.” He said he deleted the post when supporters of Fine and Jenkins began to argue in the comment section.
Dittmore said he was just looking out for city residents, who badly need the flood risk protection funding.
“My whole goal was not to let this politicization affect the City of West Melbourne,” he said.
Why is Fine feuding with Brevard School Board member Jennifer Jenkins?
“I’m not surprised by it,” Jenkins said of the incident Saturday, adding that she felt Fine had tried pulling similar attacks against her in the past.
“It’s typical for someone to attack a woman with sexual innuendos when they are threatened by their strength,” she said of Fine’s “whore” comment. “I’m no stranger to these attacks from him. He has constantly gotten a pass for his defamation and libel, and he’s just been emboldened by those who are supposed to be holding him accountable.”
Fine and Jenkins have been embroiled in a public and increasingly rancorous feud in recent months, stemming from Fine’s anger with Jenkins over her support last year of a mask mandate for Brevard Public Schools. The mandate, which was later revoked, bucked a state order from DeSantis banning such mandates.
That feud reached a climax in October when Jenkins filed for a restraining order against Fine, asking a Brevard County judge to prohibit Fine from posting about her on social media.
The case was tossed after the court agreed with Fine’s attorneys that the Facebook posts — in which Fine called Jenkins “mentally ill” and a “child abuser” for her support of the mask mandate, and repeatedly suggested she had cheated on her husband — was protected political speech.
Criminal complaints made last year containing a host of allegations against Fine by Jenkins and Robert Burns, a Brevard County political consultant with whom Fine has also had a long-standing feud, were dismissed by the State Attorney’s Office.
An investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found the complaints — which included allegations of corruption of a public servant by threat, cyberintimidation and stalking — arising from Fine’s frequent Facebook posts about Jenkins and Burns either did not rise to the level of a crime or were permitted under Florida law.
Fine made national headlines this week with a bill he filed in the recent special legislative session that stripped the Walt Disney Co. of special self-governing rights it was granted over a 25,000-acre parcel in Central Florida that serves as home to its Florida theme parks.
The bill was approved by both the Florida House and Senate and signed Friday by DeSantis.
Ethics expert: This is what you would see in a dictatorship
The legality of Fine’s threats was not clear Saturday. An expert in political ethics who spoke to FLORIDA TODAY said she wasn’t sure if Fine had broken any laws.
However, Beth Rosenson, an associate professor in political science at the University of Florida, said it was certainly unethical.
“To threaten the city, that if they don’t disinvite her and apologize that he’s going to work to get the project vetoed, that’s an ethical violation of what he’s supposed to be doing in his job,” said Rosenson, author of “The Shadowlands of Conduct: Ethics and State Politics.”
“It sounds like a pretty egregious, sort of petty way to behave,” she said. “That’s not why people elect somebody.”
Fine’s efforts reminded her of the “personalized politics” often displayed by dictators, she said, where those seeking political favors are required to “bow down” and show fealty to leaders’ demands.
“It’s not how democracy is supposed to operate,” she said. “So I think there’s some pretty deep, profound implications of what he’s doing.”
This guy was the fat, awkward, Jewish kid in middle school that used to get bullied. Now, he is grown up and is going to make everybody pay.
Randy Fine is a perfectly disgusting example of a person that should never be elected to any office. Even Dog Catcher!
If this is the type of person that Florida wants in its politics, then is there any wonder why Florida has the reputation that it has?
Watching it succumb to the ocean is actually quite satisfying, but still frustrating that it’s taking so long.